SAN CLEMENTE, Calif—A new program designed to provide food to needy senior citizens, veterans, and the disabled in southern Orange County was launched in an outdoor ceremony hosted by Supervisor Lisa Bartlett.
The Nutrition Gap program is designed to help senior citizens age 55 and older, veterans, and the disabled decrease food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers to deliver biweekly food boxes door-to-door to program participants located in the county’s Fifth District, which Bartlett represents.
The inaugural event was held on Oct. 14 in front of Ruby’s Diner in the parking lot of the Outlets at San Clemente shopping mall.
In conjunction with Second Harvest Food Bank, Ruby’s will play a key role in preparing the food boxes for the needy. The boxes will contain groceries, fresh produce, and prepared meals, and will be brought directly to those who are unable to go out and get food on their own.
Bartlett introduced the program at the Oct. 14 ceremony.
“As you know, we were heading into a recession. Now we’ve got to deal with COVID-19. We’ve got high unemployment. And one thing that really comes to mind right now during this very difficult time is food insecurity,” Bartlett told the audience.
“And it doesn’t matter whether it’s a child, or an adult, or one of our seniors. Everybody to some extent is struggling right now.”
Bartlett said the cause of the difficulties, which could range from a fear of going outdoors or a family member who is unemployed, didn’t matter as much as “just making sure that everyone has three square meals.”
“There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on our communities over the past several months. It’s made it extremely difficult for seniors or veterans and disabled residents to keep food on the table,” she said.
Harald Herrmann, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank, said the program would benefit more than just the people receiving the food.
“Jobs are also being kept alive here. … Now, more than ever, jobs matter,” Herrmann said.
“We’re still in the eye of the storm. We have lots of work to do. But if we do more like this, and if we come together as a county in the way that we have with this program with the direction and leadership of Supervisor Bartlett, then we’ll make it through together.”
Herrmann said Second Harvest would provide the food boxes that would be distributed every other week “door-to-door” by DoorDash delivery drivers and volunteers directly to those who are “in need and food insecure.”
Karen Williams is president and CEO of 2-1-1 Orange County, which will coordinate participant registration, food assembly, and delivery for the program.
“People need to know that just by dialing the number 2-1-1 on their phone that they can get connected to us 24/7 to find the help that they need,” Williams said.
She said the need for food has seen an “incredible increase” in Orange County since the start of the pandemic in March. She said calls just for food or meals had increased from 8,816 calls in March, at the beginning of the pandemic, to just under 30,000 calls in August.
She said her organization expects those unable to provide food for themselves will increase by the end of the year.
“We know there’s a big food cliff that we’re going to be hitting in December, where a lot of the money that’s been in the community from different federal programs is going to run out,” she said. “So it’s even more important than ever that this program is in place.”
The program is being funded by federal dollars through the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. To qualify to receive the food deliveries, a Fifth District resident must not be receiving assistance from any other state or federal nutrition program.
“There are still gaps and instances where people just don’t have enough food to get by. That’s where the Nutrition Gap program comes in,” Bartlett said.
“This program was designed to fill those gaps and help our seniors, veterans, and disabled have enough food to where they don’t go hungry and are counting the days until their next meal.”
Priority for receiving the food boxes will be given to individuals experiencing food insecurity due to age, disability, economic status, lack of familial or community support, and veterans, according to a press release issued by Bartlett’s office.
To qualify, a person must live in Orange County’s District 5, which includes Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, part of Irvine, and additional unincorporated communities.
Those interested can self-certify their eligibility for the program by visiting the program’s website or by dialing 211.